Cats at college? ‘Highly emotional’ students may benefit from felines on campus: study


People who are “highly emotional” may benefit from petting cats as part of animal-assisted interventions on college campuses, according to a new study published in the journal Anthrozoös.

“As most university-based animal-assisted interventions (AAIs) feature interactions with dogs, little is known about the feasibility of providing opportunities to interact with cats,” according to the abstract of the research paper, “University Cats? Predictors of Staff and Student Responsiveness Toward On-Campus Cat Visitations.” 

“AAIs” refers to on-campus programs that provide college students with animals in order to help students feel less stress.

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Cats can help relieve stress in the same way that petting a dog can be relaxing for some people, said authors Joni Delanoeije and Patricia Pendry.

Delanoeije is a psychologist and ethicist with Belgian university KU Leuven; Pendry is a professor in Washington State University’s department of human development.

More than 80% of AAI programs on college campuses involved only dogs, 5% had cats and dogs, and 10% had cats, dogs and other animals.  
(iStock)

The pair surveyed over 1,400 university students and staff from more than 20 universities for their paper. The researchers found that several factors were involved in whether a person might benefit from petting a cat. 

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People who are “highly emotional”; those who are female; those who are cat owners themselves; and those who are open to the idea of interacting with an on-campus dog were all positively associated with seeing a cat on campus.

Cats are subject to “anecdotal narratives” that would suggest they are not suitable as therapy animals. 

“Emotionality is a pretty stable trait; it doesn’t fluctuate and is a quite consistent feature of our personalities,” a press release about the study noted. 

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“People on the higher end of that scale,” the release also noted, “were significantly more interested in interacting with cats on campus.”

The research was meant to show that interventions with cats were feasible — and could help those who are averse to interacting with dogs for various reasons, said Pendry in an email to Fox News Digital.

The paper shares information "about the factors that may shape our interest in interacting with cats."

The paper shares information “about the factors that may shape our interest in interacting with cats.”
(iStock)

Pendry said that initially, she thought university students and staff would not be interested in playing with a cat — but her research proved this was incorrect.

The paper gives “us information about the factors that may shape our interest in interacting with cats,” she said. 

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“For example, our work shows that it is not the level of perceived stress that matters as much,” she added. “Instead, our work shows that aspects of one’s personality, such as one’s level of emotionality, or the intensity of one’s feeling in response to stimuli and one’s behavioral response, are important predictors of that interest.”

Not every cat is going to be appropriate for inclusion in AAIs, though.

“We should be very thoughtful about which kind of cats are most suitable for this kind of interaction,” she said. 

While she initially thought college staff and students would not be interested in playing with a cat — that was incorrect, said Pendry, one of the authors of a new study. 

While she initially thought college staff and students would not be interested in playing with a cat — that was incorrect, said Pendry, one of the authors of a new study. 
(iStock)

The addition of cats into existing AAIs along with dogs created “significant positive effects on human emotion,” the researchers found. 

They also determined that cats are underrepresented in these programs as a whole.

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They found that 86% of AAI programs on college campuses involved only dogs, 5% had both cats and dogs, and 10% had cats, dogs and other animals.

Stereotypes may be to blame, in part, for why cats are not often included in AAIs. 

“The well-being and safety of the animals involved in any animal-assisted intervention should be of paramount importance.”

“Overrepresentation of dogs may reflect university administrators’ preference for providing affordable, safe, effective programs that are easy to implement and have reduced liability,” the study noted.

Examples of a negative narrative around cats include the idea that the animal's "unpredictable behavior" can lead "to injuries in people," the study noted.

Examples of a negative narrative around cats include the idea that the animal’s “unpredictable behavior” can lead “to injuries in people,” the study noted.
(iStock)

Cats, on the other hand, are subject to “anecdotal narratives” that would suggest they are not suitable as therapy animals. 

“Examples of such narratives include cats’ unpredictable behavior leading to injuries in people, their fur being allergenic and their being intolerant of changing environments,” said the paper. 

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“Such narratives are unfortunate … Cats [can] have therapeutic effects on humans through their people-oriented behavior,” the paper also noted.

Dogs are perceived as more trainable and sociable compared to other animals, according to this research.

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“We want to make sure that we invite only those animals who enjoy these types of interactions and those who are not overwhelmed by the stress of being transported from and to campus or living in a bustling campus environment,” Pendry said in her email to Fox News Digital.

“The well-being and safety of the animals involved in any animal assisted intervention should be of paramount importance.”



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